There's a concept in yogic philosophy known as "sthira" and "sukha", roughly translated as "effort" and "ease". The idea is that in everything you do (yoga, meditation, work, relationships, etc) you want to strike a balance between "sthira" - being firm, resolute, determined, and working hard to achieve your goals - and "sukha" - remaining relaxed, reveling in joy, and nourishing yourself in peaceful, gentle ways.
I have always loved this idea, but as someone who tends to inhabit the extremes, I have never been very good at living it. My go-to routine is to work myself at 110%, going and pushing non-stop until my body gives into exhaustion, then become a potato that survives on Netflix and pasta for a week.
One of my New Year's resolutions this year was to find balance. Instead of the dramatic ups-and-downs, I wanted to work on discovering the ever-elusive golden mean. I wanted sthira and sukha to be concepts I didn’t only admire, but concepts I embodied.
What I did not realize was that my plan to spend a few month living in Tahoe would be a huge part of achieving that resolution.
Yesterday, I woke up and spent the early morning drinking tea and watching the sunrise (sukha). I then dove into hours of work, after which I turned off the computer and went for a two-hour snowshoe through the fresh powder (sthira). When I came home, I worked on my knitting while drinking wine with my mom (sukha). Today I’m planning to go to the climbing gym (sthira), then put a fire in the fireplace and read my book (sukha).
The Tahoe lifestyle lends itself to my dream of finding harmony between effort and ease, and it is everything I needed to start 2018 off right.
It’s hard not to feel at peace in Tahoe. Whether it’s watching the sunrise turn the lake various shades of rainbow, cuddling up with a good book while snow flurries gather outside the window, or roasting plump marshmallows over a roaring wood fire; just stepping foot in Tahoe is enough to induce a general sense of calm.
And yet, it’s also hard not to be active in Tahoe. When the snow looks that perfect, how can you not go for a snowshoe? During the warmer months, the trees beckon, begging you to hike through them. The lake shimmers in the sunlight, calling you to come paddle across it. Everyone you meet talks about their plans to hike, bike, swim, paddle, climb, or otherwise use their bodies in a healthy, active way. It’s contagious. It’s nature’s playground and, after all, who can resist a playground this beautiful?
My difficulty with sthira and sukha has always been my desire to do it all. I get so enthusiastic about every little thing, then I try to make every little thing a part of my daily schedule, and soon I have no time for rest. Which is why burnout is a general theme in my life. I do too much and soon enough I crash and burn.
But in Tahoe, finding balance between sthira and sukha comes naturally. Because in Tahoe, if you want to do it all, part of “it all” is curling up next to the fireplace. Part of “it all” is also an 8-mile hike through the forest. Sthira and sukha mix together so effortlessly that soon enough, you strike the perfect balance without even realizing you were looking for it.
It was easy to find balance in Tahoe, and it will be just as easy to keep that balance going while I’m here. But my time in Tahoe will be relatively short, and it will be much harder to maintain balance when I am traveling across Morocco or moving to New York City.
In Ethiopia, people always give and receive things with a certain hand gesture; you reach out your right hand while your left rests gently on the right elbow. A simple enough gesture, sure, but after two months of carefully remembering to move my arms that way, it became second-nature. Now, it is so ingrained in my muscles that I cannot take a bill from a waiter without my left hand jumping to my right elbow.
My new New Year’s resolution is not just to find balance, but to make balance a matter of muscle memory. By deliberately focusing on the balance of sthira and sukha every day, and using the support of Tahoe’s natural way of life to encourage me, I hope to teach my body how to ride that median so that when I’m trekking across the Altas Mountains with Berber nomads or shoving my way through the city streets of New York, my body will move naturally toward the balance that I found in Lake Tahoe.